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THEATER : BACKSTAGE

United offstage, separated on

Married actors Ed Harris and Amy Madigan star as an estranged couple in playwright Beth Henley's 'The Jacksonian' at Geffen.

February 12, 2012|Sean Mitchell

Madigan and Harris were at the first reading of "The Jacksonian" three years ago, voicing the same parts they will now be playing on stage. Headly was also there at the reading and subsequently got the play to fellow Chicagoan Falls, formerly head of the Goodman Theater. Eventually Randall Arney, the Geffen's artistic director, offered them a slot.

"It's a gift to work on it," Harris says. "Like all fine plays, this thing is bottomless, you just keep exploring it. It just keeps going deeper, down into the swamp" -- a description that drew laughs from Madigan and Henley.

An honest relationship

In the play, Perch has separated from his wife and teenage daughter (Rous) for reasons that are murky but point to domestic violence. Not unlike Eddie, the cowboy Harris played in "Fool for Love," Perch exhibits a certain decorum that seems to be hiding combustible properties.

"I've never gone into a play or film with as little preconception as I did going into this," Harris says. "Just no idea of where it was going to end up, who this guy was necessarily."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 16, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
"The Jacksonian": An article in the Feb. 12 Arts & Books section about the Geffen Playhouse production of "The Jacksonian" identified director Robert Falls as former head of the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Falls is still with the Goodman, serving as artistic director.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 26, 2012 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
"The Jacksonian": A Feb. 12 article about the Geffen Playhouse production of "The Jacksonian" identified director Robert Falls as former head of the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Falls is still with the Goodman, serving as artistic director.

"Ed and I really do have the luxury that we can talk about these things," Madigan says. "I think that for both of us, how great that this is an open canvas and collaborating with Beth. Let's see what we're all going to come up with. And that doesn't happen -- at least to me -- very often."

Madigan's character, Susan, is also damaged in a crucial way that must be divined through Henley's jump cuts in chronology and poetic bloodletting.

"Amy and Ed both have that great ability to not shy away from darkness but be able to incorporate the humanity of the character," Henley says. "It seems like they're holding two things in their hands at once -- something that's fragile and something that's burning. And that's a very hard thing to do. You've got to be spiritually there and intellectually there. You've got to be smart in a way that doesn't mess things up."

With their 30th wedding anniversary approaching, Harris and Madigan are playing against type as a couple in Hollywood. They have one child, daughter Lily, 18.

"The reality of the business is that I get a chance to work more than Amy does, being a man," Harris says, talking about how they've made their marriage work against great odds. "We've been pretty careful. I've never been one of those guys who's worked back to back to back and is always gone. Because I want to maintain the family relationship. Communication -- we keep those lines open. And we love each other."

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calendar@latimes.com

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'The Jacksonian'

When: Through March 25

Where: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood

Tickets: $94 to $99 through March 19; $99 to $139 March 20 to 25

Info: www.geffenplayhouse.com or (310) 208-2028

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